Survival is a risky endeavor in the games business. Where most games succeed by seducing you with powerups, new equipment, advanced machinery or the latest double-bladed shotgun that fires shurikens and lightning, more and more studios are trying to strip away the fancy new tech and simply leave you to your own devices against mother nature. While some have found success at touching the right nerve, The Forest only manages to graze it. The elements are there, but faulty design and an absurdly difficult AI grows more frustrating as you play on.
It starts with a plane crash. Pinned to your seat with a small boy clutching your arm, you see the jet split as it falls into the titular Forest—a stretch of land that may or may not be inhabited by bloodthirsty natives. The boy survives the impact, but as you lie on the floor semi-conscious, you see him being taken away by one of the locals. Then you wake up and your journey begins. The crash site is randomised, so every time you start a new game you’ll appear on a different part of the map. The crash sequence is nicely done, but it’s unskippable so get used to watching it over and over again as you die multiple times.
The cannibals will rush towards the flaming fuselage, so it’s best to grab as much as you can—tiny bottles of airline booze, energy bars, cans of soda, a fire axe—and find somewhere more remote to establish as your base of operations. Cases from the flight are littered all over the coast, making it an obvious first choice in exploration for more supplies. Then, once stocked up on food, drink, and other useful items, it’s time to head into the forest itself to set up camp, which is where the construction system comes into play.
But it’s those murderous tribes that will cause you the most grief. They’re terrifyingly aggressive, and you won’t survive an encounter with more than one or two of them. I managed to beat one to death with an axe, then I chopped his body up and used the various legs and arms to create an effigy. Set these macabre totems up around your camp and enemies will steer clear. It works the other way too, though; if you see one of their effigies you’re probably near one of their settlements, in which case it’s best to take another route. The enemies are genuinely intimidating, and I love how sometimes they won’t attack you straight away, instead circling around you, watching, studying, trying to figure you out.
The Forest is visually striking in places, but technically deficient in others where glitched animations, jagged shadows, and dodgy collision detection abound. The scariest thing in a game about surviving crazed cannibals shouldn’t be its technical performance. Eventually you’ll be bored of playing cat and mouse with the natives and yearn for something a bit more substantial to do, but if that’s available here I haven’t found it yet. A future content update is promised and will most likely add the necessary end-game components to flesh it out more, but this tale of survival feels already played out.